Storytelling marketing: how to use it to crush your competition
Katelynn MarfousiKM
Katelynn Marfousi
August 11, 2022
10 minutes read

Storytelling marketing: how to use it to crush your competition

Make your marketing pop with some groovy storytelling

Storytelling marketing is hot right now. There's a big emphasis on content and positioning yourself as a brand and other jargon that ultimately doesn't mean much to the average person. We're going to break down what storytelling marketing strategy actually is, and how you can practically use it to turn people who have never heard about you into your most avid fans.

Why has storytelling become such a necessary marketing tool?

Simply put, we as living human people hate being sold. Someone thinking they can schmooze and persuade us feels inherently manipulative and off-putting. The idea of a greasy, slimy salesperson didn't appear out of anything, either. We've all encountered that aggressive used-car salesman or ruthless stockbroker who cares more about the "bottom line" more than the actual consumer.

Think Wolf of Wall Street. That movie was successful because we know who they're talking about. Everyone has been swindled into some too-good-to-be-true pipe dream from some jerk who laughed his way to the bank, and frankly we're all universally soured on the process. It is, in fact, quite difficult to think of an example of modern media where the salesman or marketing exec was the good guy.

But that's marketing, baby. We are selling, people are buying, and we have to figure out, as communications baddies, how to be as not schmoozy and annoying as possible while we peddle our wares.

This is where the concept of storytelling comes into marketing. The world simply doesn't need more false promises of the best product or service ever in the history of the galaxy-esque hyperbole.

Nobody trusts marketing

  • According to this Forbes article, 70% of study respondents say that trusting a company is important when considering purchasing from them. It's the second most important factor, only after price
  • Only 8% of respondents in the Edelman Trust Barometer stated they automatically trust advertising
  • The lack of trust in advertising is forcing consumers to look toward earned media – so, things like social media comments and product reviews. In fact, 61% of respondents in a JungleScout survey indicated they trust YouTube over other social media outlets for finding new products

Consumer trust is heavily valued but hard to win. So many of us have been burned by cheap, unethical marketing tactics, which really means an uphill battle for those in the communications space who want to win over those customers.

Okay, but how does this relate to storytelling?

So, what does trust and marketing and all this have to do with storytelling? Simply put, all of this boils down to one crucial and universal truth: nobody gives a crap about your business. Except you. And (maybe) your colleagues. In general, however, the average consumer truly could not care less about the company you help run.

And why is that? Because they are the hero in their story. They are busy thinking about their business (which you, in turn, do not care about). We are intrinsically myopic people, solely focused on being the protagonist and slaying the dragons in our harrowing quest. We occasionally will find other people, bring them into our lives and call them friends or family, but outside of a select few people, our ability to care deeply about things is really quite limited. And that's okay.

Apart from kittens! Boy do we care about kittens.

But it does post an interesting Business Problem, namely: how do you get someone to care about something they literally just do not care about at all for one hot second? How do you build a relationship of trust out of nothing among the cacophony of cheap, manipulative marketing practices that are flooding computer screens?

And that, my friend, is where storytelling comes in.

Generally speaking, people need to either be entertained by what you have to offer, or to find it genuinely useful – ideally, both! Any other feature is effectively useless and extremely hard to market.

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How can you use storytelling in your marketing?

Everything you do is a story. With every tweet, every landing page, and every help article, you are shaping the narrative of what your business stands for. And frankly, sometimes that marketing story is "we are boring and dry as hell", which is what we want to move away from! So let's discuss some of the ways that you can use storytelling to really make your marketing sparkle ✨

Establish a cohesive and snappy brand story

What is a brand story? Well, it's really in the title there. The brand story is the story… about your brand. Section over, everyone, let's move on.

But no, I won't be stopped! I have a lot more to say, and a dedicated SEO word count to reach.

In his great and appropriately-titled book Building A StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, Donald Miller discussed two big mistakes companies make when attempting to connect with audiences through their storytelling.

Mistake #1: Ignoring the primary motivations of consumers (aka Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs). If your story isn't appealing to their sense of survival or self-actualization, then it truly does not matter to them.

Our brains are constantly sorting through information and so we discard millions of unnecessary facts every day. If we were to spend an hour in a giant ballroom, our brains would never think to count how many chairs are in the room. Meanwhile, we would always know where the exits are. Why? Because our brains don’t need to know how many chairs there are in the room to survive, but knowing where the exits are would be helpful in case there was a fire.

Without knowing it, the subconscious is always categorizing and organizing information, and when we talk publicly about our company’s random backstory or internal goals, we’re positioning ourselves as the chairs, not the exits.

Donald MillerBuilding A StoryBrand

Mistake #2: You make your audience work too hard to figure out how your story matters to them. Literally, just wasting their time (or as Donald Miller calls it, their calories).

When having to process too much seemingly random information, people begin to ignore the source of that useless information in an effort to conserve calories. In other words, there’s a survival mechanism within our customers’ brain that is designed to tune us out should we ever start confusing them.

Imagine every time we talk about our products to potential customers, they have to start running on a treadmill. Literally, they have to jog the whole time we’re talking. How long do you think they’re going to pay attention? Not long.

Donald MillerBuilding A StoryBrand

When drafting your marketing story, make it about the target customer. "Wait, what? But it's our story!" I hear you screaming at the screen. Yes, it is your story, but ultimately your story should reflect the values and wishes of your potential (or current) customer base. Turning strangers into loyal fans means they'll align with who your company is and what it stands for, which is way more important than regurgitating LLC registration dates and dry merger acquisition details.

Take the company Lush, for example. Lush is known to be a luxury soap and cosmetics company that justifies its high prices because they are committed to environmental and animal-friendly production. Their story is consistent with this messaging, often using phrasing like "fresh", "vegetarian", and "transparency".


They could have made their official story about the dates and figures and board members and blah, blah, blah, but it wouldn't speak to the core of who they are (or why they charge $9 for a bar of soap). Their story instead reflects what their target audience values: sustainability, animal-friendliness, freshness, and homemadeness (a word I just home-made up).

You'll see this a lot in storytelling marketing: the story reflects how the company wants to be perceived. A skateboard company will make their story something like, "Cool Zack was hanging out in his killer loft apartment with 25 of his best, raddest pals when he decided he wanted to take his love for skateboarding to the masses. Their first skateboard was made out of a tire." Or something. Never, "Multinational Corporation did market research and discovered that the youths are searching for 'ollie tricks' on TikTok, so they started mass-producing skateboards to increase profit margins." This simply does not have the same ring, storytelling-wise.

The real Cool Zack
The real Cool Zack

Solve a problem with snazzy storytelling product marketing

Pretty much all businesses exist to solve one problem or another. That problem could be "global warming" or simply "we didn't like how our shower gel smelled so we made a different smelling shower gel." But either way, you're here to solve a problem.

So, get vocal about it. Get spicy and antagonistic. Pick fights, do crime. Tell a story through your product.

Get mad about the problems that your fanbase gets mad about, and then fix those problems. Dawn dish soap did this fantastically during their "save an oily duck" campaign (probably not the official campaign title). People were furious about how gas companies pollute the environment, so Dawn used that as an amazing CSR, marketing, and adorable storytelling opportunity.

Most of us don't have strong opinions on dish soap, but we do have strong opinions on animals, wildlife, the environment, and the wanton destruction of those things. So when Dawn positioned itself as the de facto duck saver, the world went crazy. Instead of just being another replaceable dish soap company, they are now selling you the opportunity to be a "wildlife hero".

Also, look at that cute duck.

Craft engaging storytelling content marketing

Thanks to SEO, Brian Dean, and all the major search engines (AskJeeves), content marketing is king. You'd be hard-pressed to find a business these days that doesn't heavily invest in content. While there is a lot of content out there, and while content marketing isn't going anywhere anytime soon, my goodness is a lot of that content really bad.

Almost half of those marketers we surveyed (51 percent of B2C companies, and 47 percent of B2B companies) still struggle with how to create the kind of content that engages. At a fundamental level, we're all still struggling with how to create the kind of content that attracts customers.

Ann HadleyEverybody Writes

In the marketing world, we're seeing a lot of content, but how much of it is actually good? This is where the power of storytelling content marketing comes in. Writing a good story is far more important than writing another regurgitated spin on the same top-ranking listicles. This is especially true as Google is consistently moving towards ranking high-quality and engaging content.

So, if you find yourself trapped in the same cycle of repurposing boring, blah content over and over again, look into the power of gripping storytelling. Invest in good writers, and give them the resources to make great content. Heck, give them a raise! Or, alternatively, hire a traveling bard to sing your tale in the town square.

"Sharon, is there room in the marketing budget for a bard?"

Write better emails with storytelling marketing

The power of email marketing is something strange and mystical indeed.

But not really; it's a pretty normal thing.

A normal but powerful thing.

We talk a lot at Prezly about the benefits of email marketing and owned media. But the fine line between "fun, sexy email campaign" and "boring, trash-worthy spam" is razor thin. And the difference between the two comes down to value and not being super boring. Emails that tell a unique story or provide value in an interesting way are far more likely to win fans than self-promotional ramblings.

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Your company's story can either be written by you or for you. Telling the world who you are gives you an opportunity to stand for something, lest you be unceremoniously written off as simply another faceless, meaningless business amongst a sea of other businesses. Using stories in your marketing is your key to unlocking an emotional connection to your audience.

Ok, so now you're sold on crafting a marketing story. But how exactly does one do that?

Fear not! We get down and practical in our sister article, The power of storytelling in business (or, How to make people fall in love) – and you can also check out these awesome storytelling examples from real brands for some inspo.

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